Mintwood Place

Mintwood Place is one of the most interesting restaurants I’ve been to in a long while. Very casual, but the food is serious and oh so good. I was not surprised to learn that the Chef is a semi-finalist for a James Beard award and that he recently nabbed honors as Best Chef Food & Wine Mid-Atlantic.Mintwood Place in DC

As is often the case, the appetizers were the best and most unusual part of the meal. We started with a burrata and kale salad, which looked nice enough, but tasted great. The kale was crispy, the burrata was creamy smooth and the sprinkling of apple and hazelnut on top added a bit of crunch. Really awesome.P1010165

Having read reviews online beforehand, I knew we needed to try the goat cheese and beet mountain pie even though I had no clue what it was. What it turned out to be was the most unusual beet dish I’ve ever had. Though it sounded unappealing from the description our server gave us, the four of us devoured it in seconds. As my son said, Arthur Bryant’s wasn’t the only restaurant up in arms when Hostess stopped making Wonder Bread, because this “mountain pie” featured two pieces of Wonder bread enveloping the goat cheese and paper thin slices of beet. Somehow the pie is closed up and the bread is toasted, sealing in the ingredients so the goat cheese can melt without oozing out until you slice it open.Goat cheese and beet mountain pie--Mintwood Place

Photos on the internet showed that the Tagliatelle Bolognese was a treat to behold, and the real thing was just as enticing. The noodles had been wrapped tightly and topped with a mound of Parmesan cheese that made my husband think he should order it despite the fact that he doesn’t eat meat. Instead he got the best of both worlds: the chef made him a vegetable pasta with a myriad of vegetables, and the same mound of grated cheese.Tagliatelle Bolognese--Mintwood PlaceTagliatelle with vegetables--Mintwood Place

We happened to go to Mintwood on a Sunday evening, which is Porchetta night. I’ve always shied away from ordering this Italian preparation of a pork roast because of the huge ring of fat that envelops the actual meat, but the server convinced me that it wasn’t overly rich, and that I wouldn’t regret it. So I went with his glowing recommendation and wasn’t disappointed. Yes, there was that huge ring of fat, but just like with a big piece of prime rib or a hunk of steak with the fat still on, you can just cut that part away and dive into the middle….which I did, and it was fabulous. The meat was pink in the middle, which made it moist and flavorful. A mustard-flavored charcuterie sauce accompanied the dish, but I preferred it unadulterated. The dish came with one side and I chose the Brussels sprouts. Roasted with ham, they were a bit smokey for my taste, but otherwise flawless. The better vegetable was the roasted broccolini, with glazed bits of nuts and onions.Porchetta--Mintwood PlaceBroccolini--Mintwood PlaceBrussel Sprouts--Mintwood PlacePotatoes Gratin--Mintwood Place

Though we had had more than enough to eat during this last meal of a marathon weekend of eating, we couldn’t resist trying one of the desserts. The key lime pie and the pecan pie were hard to pass up, but we went for a brownie sundae, whipped cream on the side. Good choice–the ice cream was full of chocolate chips and the brownie was chewy and fudgy.Brownie sundae--Mintwood Place

Mintwood’s decor deserves a mention as well, though it’s a struggle to describe. It fits right in the Adams-Morgan section of DC, epitomizing a neighborhood restaurant where patrons can have a drink and nibbles at the bar, a full on dinner, or a hungover brunch on a Sunday morning. The wood walls and tables offer a nice contrast to the tile floors, and the rusty machine parts displayed throughout the room give the interior a funky look.Mintwood PlaceMintwood Place

There’s nothing casual about the service. Servers are well-trained, friendly, capable and knowledgeable.

If our evening was any indication, this hot spot of the moment in DC is not going to fade anytime soon.

Mintwood Place on Urbanspoon

Pig & Finch

Pig & Finch is the area’s latest gastropub, a term defined broadly to encompass a restaurant that has a pub-like atmosphere serving high-end beer and wine, paired with upscale comfort food. Pig & Finch is owned by the 801 Chophouse folks and is located next door to the 801 Chophouse in Park Place. P1010081Pig & Finch

Relatively sedate during the day, Pig & Finch comes alive at night. It feels fun and energetic, and the lighting is extremely effective, allowing the numerous pig wall paintings to pop. And though there’s a definite hip factor, happily the noise level in the dining room is manageable. If you go with a group, consider booking the community table. Positioned right in front of the kitchen, it’s a great perch from which to watch the cooking and dishes being plated. Don’t miss the clever wine bottle chandelier that hovers above the table.The community table at Pig & Finch

I’ve had several very fine meals at Pig and Finch, grazing through a menu that ranges from a Kale Caesar to an oversized and fall-off-the-bone tender lamb shank. The only loser in the mix was the Gruner salad. It was quite bland, with unexciting ingredients; more befitting of a coffee shop than what I would think possible considering the chef’s creativity in all other parts of the menu.Kale Caesar--Pig & Finch

Those readers who follow me know I’m a sucker for good French fries, and the Finch fries satisfy my requirements–not too thin, not too thick, crisp, with the skins on.Finch Fries and Gruner Salad--Pig & Finch

The short rib grilled cheese is heavy on the meat, rich and delicious. This seems to be the new “it” sandwich. I’ve had renditions of it at both Gram and Dun and Anton’s. It’s served with housemade chips, but I recommend ordering the appetizer of potato chips with a blue cheese sauce for the table. Though the chips were a bit greasy, it didn’t stop all of us from devouring them.Potato Chips and Blue Chese--Pig & Finch

Flatbreads are also good for sharing. The toppings were better than the crust, which wasn’t all that impressive. It was nice and thin, but missed on the density. I did love the balsamic glaze on the tomato mozzarella flatbread.Tomato and mozzarella flatbread--Pig & Finchlamb burger-- Pig & finch

The lamb shank is the restaurant’s specialty and it’s easy to see why. It’s expensive, but you’re treated to a huge piece of meat. Tender and moist, it went well with the smashed potatoes and root vegetables.Lamb Shank--Pig & Finch

I loved the duck cassoulet. It’s not a dish you see on menus around town, so it was a treat. The duck was tender, the pork belly added another layer of complexity to the dish and the white beans were lovely.Duck Cassoulet--Pig & Finch

The menu also features two burgers, one with lamb and the other that’s all beef.

If you like pork, the Pig chop is thick cut, very juicy with a touch of pink, and served with a homemade mustard that marries well with the pork and the brussel sprouts hash that accompanied it.Grilled Pig Chop--Pig & Finch

Pig & Finch is the latest entry in a growing list of interesting and fun independently owned restaurants to open in Leawood. Hopefully, it will have a longer life than its predecessor in the space, Trezo Vino, which started out hot and then fizzled.Pig & Finch

Pig & Finch on Urbanspoon

Coopers Hawk Winery and Restaurant

Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant is the new kid on the Plaza, taking the space previously occupied by 810 Zone. Fortunately, no remnant of the former tenant remains. CHW executed a total redo and introduced a new concept in the process. Walking into the building, one first encounters a retail store. I was a little surprised by the commercialism, but was later told that the idea is to replicate a Napa winery, complete with tasting room and outlet to buy wine and accessories. The Napa theme isn’t far fetched. I interviewed corporate winemaker Rob Warren last month and he explained that while the wine itself is made in Illinois, most of their grapes are sourced from vineyards on the West coast, as well as some from Michigan. Perhaps Missouri grapes will be added to the lineup at some point?! P1000834

Before we had a chance to check out the merchandise, we were greeted by a server offering us a glass of bubbly from her tray. And because it was the first week of operation, staff members were swarming, some in training and others undoubtedly on loan from other CHW operations around the country. While roaming we noted that wine-tastings are available for a small fee, and all 15 varietals of Coopers Hawk wine are available for purchase. There were also a number of pretty cool wine accessories that would have made great stocking stuffers.Coopers Hawk

The check-in desk for a table is located behind the store, at the base of the steps which lead to the dining room and in front of the bar area. We were led upstairs to our booth, which was in one of many small dining areas, making the cavernous space seem more intimate and quiet than I would have thought possible. I did note that a couple of the rooms were too brightly lit, but we were seated in a room that was more appropriate for evening dining.Coopers Hawk

My visit had been set up by the CHW public relations firm and we received a complimentary meal. Our server was a college student who loved everything on the menu, making her recommendations a bit suspect, but she was attentive, friendly and well-intentioned.

We started with a bottle of Cabernet/Zinfandel which is described in the menu as being “full-bodied and jammy with aromas of black currant, pepper, and cherry.” Ordering a bottle of red wine triggers somewhat of a production–while our server went to get the bottle, another server brought to our table a huge decanter with a tap for releasing the wine into a glass. After opening the bottle, the server poured the wine over a glass ball which aerates the wine, cools it and releases the bouquet. Looking around the room I noticed one of those decanters on almost every table. Gimmicky? Perhaps, but it was a fun touch.Chicken Lettuce Wraps--Coopers Hawk

Word to the wise, many of the apps are for sharing; we ended up with way too much food. The lettuce wraps could have been a full meal on their own, and definitely a good item to share among 3 or 4 people. There were 5 individual tuna tacos to that order, again a fun appetizer to pass around the table.Tuna tacos--Coopers Hawk

The menu is huge. It’s one of those “something for everyone” type of menus. Salads, sandwiches, burgers, chicken, pork, beef, pasta and fish specialities fill the pages.

Though it’s probably a throwback to the 90s, I love fish with wasabi mashed potatoes, so I couldn’t resist the grilled salmon with those potatoes and Asian slaw. I like my salmon medium rare and it came to the table just as I requested. Visually, there was too much wasabi butter floating on top of the potatoes; I’d rather not see just how many calories I’m consuming, but the end result made me banish that image and just enjoy them.Salmon with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

My husband had the Angel Hair Neapolitano with Fresh Garlic, Chili Flakes, Rotisserie Roasted Chicken, Broccoli, San Marzano Tomato Sauce, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. For someone who loves pasta as much as he does, he was happy, but it wasn’t exceptional. He did have to ask for Parmesan, but he’s not shy…Angel Hair pasta with chicken--Coopers Hawk

I must have had pretzel rolls at 3 or 4 restaurants the week I dined at CHW. They certainly are the “it” bread of the moment. Here, they bring one large round loaf on a cutting board to the table for sharing.Pretzel Roll--Coopers Hawk

Of course we had to try dessert, so we picked the warm chocolate chip cookie in a skillet that had Reeces peanut butter cups baked in. Naturally it was topped with vanilla ice cream. Not a bad way to finish the meal before we rolled ourselves to the car.warm chocolate cookie with ice cream--Coopers Hawk

When dining at Coopers Hawk, the word “formulaic” comes to mind, but it works so I guess that’s something. If you’re looking for a nice meal, competent service and some good wine on the Plaza, add this to your list. It’s not a small, cozy independent restaurant but, except for a few restaurants like Classic Cup, you pretty much need to leave the Plaza to have that experience these days.

Cooper's Hawk on Urbanspoon

Anton’s Taproom and Restaurant

Originally built as a grocery store, the building at 1610 Main now houses Anton’s Taproom and Restaurant. The name is a misnomer because the owner’s vision encompasses so much more. Upon entering the building for the first time I was greeted by a waiter who offered us a tour of the “grounds”. We visited a second floor art gallery, a basement aquaphonic tank for raising tilapia, an outdoor bar and garden, a butcher shop and, oh yeah, the dining room and bar.

The bar runs the length of the room with more than 65 beers on tap, 2 wines on tap and a whole array of bottles lining the wall.

Meats on the menu come from the butcher shop which offers seating for overflow from the dining room, or perhaps for those who want a somewhat quieter ambiance.

Protein dishes come unadorned. No sauce, no sides; just the meat, chicken or scallops. Steaks are ordered by the ounce, though there is an 8 ounce minimum. There’s a choice of grass or grain fed beef, and dry aged in-house from 14 or 28 days.

I’m not much of a meat eater, but perusing the menu the short rib sandwich looked too mouth-watering to pass up. Piled high with meat, arugula, mushrooms and balsamic reduction on Texas toast style bread, I intended to only eat a half, but couldn’t resist finishing it. The French fries were better than they looked, but I always prefer a fry that still has the skins on and is a bit crisper than these were.

The pulled pork sandwich was very tasty and was slathered with a homemade BBQ sauce that could dance with the big boys in town.

We also ordered an arugula salad with apples and truffle vinaigrette that was fresh and crisp. Adding chicken confit made it a complete meal.

The only disappointment was the wedge salad, which was smaller than the oversized heads of lettuce I’m used to seeing at Capital Grille. That would have been fine had it not seemed small for the price as well.

We were very impressed by the very friendly and helpful staff. On our first visit, the bartender was more than happy to let us sample a variety of beers before settling on our favorite of the evening.

Anton’s is a hotspot of the moment, appealing to those wanting a full on meal or simply a drink in a “Cheers” kind of atmosphere.  As more menu items are added and the butcher shop opens, I suspect that will continue.

Anton's Taproom on Urbanspoon

 

The Jacobson

The Jacobson, the Crossroad’s newest hip restaurant, shares space with Lulu’s Noodle shop. Both occupy the old A.D. Jacobson Heating and Plumbing Company building. It’s a very cool space with glazed cement block walls, a mix of high and low tables, secluded boothes and plenty of bar counter seating. Some of the cocktails come in flasks to the table, sitting in an ice bucket so diners can pour their own or share.

The menu is large, and diners can choose to go light with flatbreads and salads, or heavier with entrees, both day and night.

On my first visit I indulged in a rich and decadent Banh Mi with sliced pork belly, cilantro and carrots, and a spicy mayo. I loved every bite, but it’s definitely not an every day kind of sandwich. If it were sliced pork loin or pulled pork shoulder I could pretend it wasn’t too bad for me, but pork belly is by definition fatty.

The Ahi tuna salad may be a standard on many a menu these days, but this is a good one, with good quality rare tuna and a very pleasant miso vinaigrette dressing up the greens.

On another go around we started with a wild mushroom and ricotta flatbread. The flatbread was crisp, with plentiful toppings, but the dough could have benefited from perhaps a bit more salt (which I hardly ever recommend!).

I really enjoyed the unusual Crossroads salad. The crisp romaine is  tossed with bacon, corn, tomatoes, avocado and a creamy oregano dressing, and a soft poached egg sits on top.  Eggs on salads are big right now, with good reason. The oozing yolk mixes with the dressing to add complexity to the salad.

The J has Happy Hour every day. It would be fun to hit the patio on a beautiful autumn day and throw back a few. There’s a full bar with beer on tap outside, and a water and fire element on the patio. It can be noisy with all of the construction going down in the Crossroads, but that’s the price of progress, and that stops in the early evening.

Desserts are definitely worth ordering. If you’re into Dutch Babies (looks like a cross between a huge pancake and Yorkshire pudding), I saw a few of them  pass by and they looked like the real deal. Servers seem to be partial to the Fig Newton, an unusual twist on my childhood fig newton sandwich: squares of bread pudding serve as the sandwich to the fig perserve filling and are drizzled with chocolate sauce. In a cute riff on cookies and milk, the dessert comes with a shot of Shatto banana milk. Adorable lookng, but since I’m not a bread pudding lover, I don’t think I’d get it again. The Brown Sugar cake on the other hand, with peanut butter ice cream and caramel sauce was a winner.

Chef John Smith has some impressive credentials, having worked with some of the great chefs in Chicago, New York and Paris. Based on his resume, I’m looking forward to trying out the dinner menu, which is more extensive and emphasizes fish, chicken and meat entrees.

It’s fun to go to the Crossroads these days. The ability to experience high quality fare from independent restaurateurs seems to be increasing at an exciting pace.

The Jacobson on Urbanspoon

Salad Days

 

I love salads, and never get tired of them. You might want to give some of these a try before we have to say good-bye to the luscious summer produce. 

1.Beet salad. Start with roasted beets, preferably of different hues for a more spectacular presentation. Add mixed greens, goat or blue cheese, and walnuts. For a contemporary twist, substitute shelled pistachios for the walnuts. A sherry or balsamic vinaigrette will complete the dish. (In a glass jar, combine 2 TB Dijon mustard, 1 TB chopped shallots, ½ cup balsamic or sherry vinegar and 1/2 cup olive oil, and shake vigorously. I prefer more acidity than oil in my dressings, so keep that in mind if you like a more traditional taste.) Or just slice the beets raw and enjoy atop  greens with the cheese of your choice.

2.Mexican Cobb. Combine chopped chicken, avocado, black beans, corn, feta cheese, tomatoes, tortilla chips, and cilantro, and toss with a lime dressing. (Whisk together ½ cup lime juice, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 TB honey mustard, 2 TB honey, 4 TB canola oil, salt and pepper). For variety, substitute grilled shrimp or steak.

3. Grilled Asparagus. Starting with a plate of arugula, sprinkle with goat cheese, olives and cooked couscous. Top with asparagus and drizzle with black olive vinaigrette. (In a blender, mix ½ cup of Kalmata or Nicoise olives, 1 TB Dijon mustard, 1 TB honey, 1 TB chile powder, ½ cup sherry or red wine vinegar, and 3/4 cup olive oil). A Bobby Flay original.

4. Caesar. Toss whole leaves of romaine with a touch of olive oil and grill for about 2 minutes until slightly wilted and a bit charred. Arrange on an oblong platter and drizzle with your favorite Caesar salad dressing. Blanket with freshly baked croutons, lots of shaved Parmesan and cracked pepper. To make a complete meal, include grilled chicken or salmon.

5. Chinese Chicken. Chop nappa cabbage and romaine lettuce in a serving bowl. Add wasabi peas, tortilla strips, grated carrots, pea pods, scallions, cilantro and grilled chicken strips. Make your life a bit simpler by using a bottle of Jade’s Sichuan Peanut sauce, available at Better Cheddar. Add lime juice to taste, and you’ll have an easy facsimile of Houston’s.

6. Caprese. Nothing shouts summer like a tomato and mozzarella salad topped with basil leaves and olive oil, and it’s not too late to find fresh tomatoes in the many farmers’ markets around town. Though not a traditional ingredient, I recommend a splash of balsamic vinegar as well. Find the freshest cheese available, preferably Buffalo mozzarella (though that’s not what’s in the picture!)

Grand Street Cafe

Grand Street Cafe has been a favorite off-Plaza destination since 1991. At the time, its wallpaper with willow branches protruding in 3D fashion and striped rattan chairs created an imaginative botanical scene which captivated diners. Though originally owned by the very successful PB&J group of restaurants, it was bought in 2009 by Rick and Kristi Ghilardi. Rick had been a partner in the business for 19 years, so the transition was seamless. Fortunately, the couple recognized the need to update the decor because a recent visit revealed a more subtle, neutral-toned atmosphere.

The layout is the same and the original striped rattan chairs remain. The signature grass-green color that has always graced the menus is now tied into the decor through its presence on the back wall, a splash of fun in an otherwise calm setting. It reminded me of Gram & Dun’s decor, and that’s a good thing.

Though the menu is also updated with new additions, it feels very much the same. You can still get that great pork chop; it just has a different twist. Same with the scallops and short ribs. Fans of Bill’s Chicken Salad will not be disappointed–though Bill (former owner Crooks) is no longer a part of the operation, his salad lives on.

We were there for lunch, so we didn’t go for the entrees. We started with their seasonal flatbread, which we both enjoyed immensely. The crust was thin, but with a slight chew. Onion marmalade, Maytag blue cheese, mission figs, arugula, shaved onion, grape tomatoes graced the top (it also came with prosciutto which we nixed) in ideal proportion to the size of the cut triangles, and the marmalade added a touch of sweetness.

My friend had the ahi salad with a marinated tuna steak, butter lettuce, hearts of palm, snow peas, roasted red pepper, hard-boiled eggs, caper vinaigrette. Perfectly pleasant, but not exciting.

I had the cobb which, in addition to traditional ingredients sported cheddar cheese and croutons. It was well-executed and filling.

Service continues to be a hallmark of this well-run establishment.

As word gets out that the restaurant has left the 20th Century in the rear-view mirror, I suspect it will again become top-of-mind for diners considering their eating around town.

Grand Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Seasons 52

Seasons 52, a relatively new chain restaurant that landed on the Plaza in late 2011, bills itself as a grill and wine bar featuring fresh and seasonal fare. Each dish is less than 475 calories, and desserts are 250 calories or less.

Our local outpost is quite attractive, a cross in design between Houston’s and Capital Grille. Both Capital Grille and Seasons are owned by the Darden group, so the similarities are not coincidental. And both wine lists were created by the same sommelier. They each have that clubby feel and, like Houston’s, the bar has booths for dining. I prefer the ambiance in the bar, especially on evenings when a piano player is in the house.

On each of my visits, the food was consistently solid and the service polished and flawless. The menu is extensive, so diners can really make the meal whatever they want it to be, whether soup and salad, flatbread and a glass of wine, or meat and potatoes. What diners won’t find is excitement. I’ve enjoyed most everything I’ve ordered, but none of it was so flavorful or interesting that I would rush back.

The first time my husband and I dined there, we simply wanted a quick bite. I had  the Maui Tuna Crunch Salad sushi-grade seared tuna, tropical organic greens, toasted almonds and miso vinaigrette. Very nice, but could have used a few more calories to add some oomph. Or even a few vegetables.

My husband had the spicy chicken relleno which happily, unlike the versions you see at most Mexican restaurants, was not battered and fried. This appetizer  combines the chicken with sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and spinach and sits on pico de gallo. Light and flavorful, but again, could have benefitted from some heat. (Though I’m not suggesting everything has to be spicy, I’m not into bland).

My next visit was complimentary, and came with an invitation to sample the new winter menu. Since Seasons 52 is known for their flatbreads, we started with the spicy chipotle shrimp flatbread, which was flavored with poblano peppers, grilled pineapple and feta. Not my favorite ingredients, but the dish was well-executed. The flatbread was thin and crisp, and attractively served on a long, narrow wood board.

Our server said that the stuffed mushrooms are one of the most popular appetizers, so we ordered those as well. The mushrooms are stuffed with spinach, crab and shrimp and topped with bread crumbs. They were  cleverly served in an escargot style plate, with the mushrooms in the holes that are usually reserved for snails, allowing them to retain their heat. Unexciting, but perfectly acceptable.

I ordered the  Maple Leaf Farms Sesame Duck Chop Salad with apples, mint, cranberries, butternut squash and toasted pecans for my entrée. The salad was layered and came in a cylinder which the server gently pulled off as part of the presentation. (I’ve seen this done at Gram and Dun as well.) I was glad A.G. Sulzberger of the New York Times wasn’t there since the salad was in fact, comprised of almost all iceberg lettuce. The duck was well-done, but they had not asked my preference, so I’m not sure if that’s typical or not.

One of the specials of the evening was called a seared tuna noodle bowl. Though it ironically came on a large plate, it was gorgeous and contained a variety of Asian vegetables. Though redolent with ginger, it was a bit salty and again lacked a kick.

Desserts come in shot glasses, and there are 8 from which to choose. We tried the key lime pie and carrot cake. Both are, of course, deconstructed and layered in the shot glass. I especially enjoyed the key lime, with its sugary bites of graham cracker crust. 

At Seasons 52, diners can expect an enjoyable experience. I wasn’t wowed by the food; nor could I find anything objectionable. I was certainly impressed with the smooth service and relaxed setting, both of which should make this well-conceived chain a success in our town.

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

The Pump Room–Chicago

No, it’s not your mother’s Pump Room, the one that hosted celebrities for decades in the old Ambassador East Hotel. Though black and white photos from those halcyon days grace many of its walls, the new Pump Room is a total redo. Ian Schrager (of Studio 54 fame) recently bought the hotel and renamed it the Public Hotel. It has very quickly become THE place to be seen in Chicago. The bar is packed at all hours and the Pump Room is an impossible reservation to snag, undoubtedly due in part to Schrager’s decision to install Jeans-Georges Vongerichten in the kitchen.

Knowing we had to pace ourselves through a weekend of eating, my sister and I wanted to have a light lunch after checking into the hotel, and this was the place to do that without sacrificing excitement or flavor. Perusing the menu, I was delighted to find that JG has imported many of the signature dishes from his wildly successful ABC Kitchen in New York City. While vegetables used to be an afterthought, today’s chefs have relegated them to exalted status. At both ABC Kitchen and the Pump Room, they are the stars of the show.

Ever since my visit to ABC Kitchen last spring, I have been extoling the virtues of the Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad to anyone who will listen. Though it may be hard to believe that this dish could be so memorable, my sister agreed with me that it deserves the accolades it gets because fortunately, this was prepared as flawlessly as the first time I reveled in it.

Another dish on both menus is the Roasted Beets with Homemade Yogurt. The dish was pretty as a picture and the beets were as sweet as candy. But the surprise of the meal was the broccoli side dish. Who knew this green veggie could be so addictive? It was roasted with garlic, jalapenos and pistachio and every bite made us smile.

We almost ordered a pizza, but when we saw the homemade bread and green olive oil that our server brought to the table, we opted to enjoy that instead…and an order of crisp house cut French fries. What a great lunch!

Since the restaurant is in a hotel, one of course can expect the obligatory hotel menu items like a cobb salad or turkey sandwich, but Jeans-Georges gives these classics a new twist. The hamburger is finished with herb mayo and pickled jalapenos, the mushroom pizza (a huge seller at ABC) is finished with a fried egg, and fried chicken comes with sweet corn and a chile glaze.

The hotel, too, is a visual treat. The common rooms are spectacular and very cozy for coffee or people-watching.

Pump Room on Urbanspoon

Nica’s 320

Nica’s 320 recently took over the old Shiraz space on Southwest Boulevard. The original Nica’s Cafe was out south before its owners negotiated for a bigger space in the Crossroads. Loaded with the same charm and a courtyard as Shiraz, Nica’s 320 looks like it’s been around forever.

The menu is quite unique. Diners devise their own dishes using potatoes, mac ‘n cheese, pasta, salad, pizza or a typical entree (steak, fish, chicken, scallops) as the basic platform. The “flavor choices” sound like a trip around the world–Thai, Caribbean, Cajun, French, and Italian, with Veghead and Ranchero rounding out the selections. Each style is described on the menu, and mixing and matching is encouraged. As an example, Nico’s noodles can be baked Margarita style with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, basil, and artichoke hearts; Ranchero with chorizo, corn, roasted peppers, candied jalapenos, Cajun with Andouille, shrimp, chicken, candied jalapenos and olive tapenade; or Veghead with candied pecans, spinach, roasted peppers and wild mushrooms. It looks like the menu is huge, but the same ingredients are used repeatedly.

In addition to trying the noodles, we had a grilled Caesar salad with a Thai Caesar vinaigrette. The dressing was fine, though I’m not sure I would have recognized it as being Thai. The Pupusa Medusa appetizer is Salvadoran in style, a cross between a tamale and a tortilla. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s going to be as authentic as what can be found at El Pulgarcito. The pupusa looked similar, but wasn’t as soft or fluffy, nor was the slaw topping as spicy.

We also ordered the 3 Stooges, an appetizer with three “tacos”. I use that term loosely, because they were unlike any tacos I’ve ever seen. There were three fillings–supposedly Cajun, Carnitas , and Thai chicken, served with sesame slaw and jerk salsa, though we were we were clearly eating steak and pineapple, not Andouille and shrimp, so we must have been given a Caribbean filling instead of the Cajun (but we liked it, so it wasn’t a big deal). In any event, they were served with three very thin and greasy tortillas that were so brittle there was no way to form a taco. The best we could do was break them into chips and add a bit of each filling on top. It’s a dish that clearly needs to be reworked (and maybe it has since that particular visit in October).

The restaurant is new, having only been open a few months, and it always takes time to get the kinks out, but it’s a fine effort and reasonably priced. I admire the creativity, but the dishes were a bit too contrived. Perhaps the other combinations will be more successful, certainly putting some of these ingredients in an omelette at breakfast, or in a sandwich at lunch is an appealing notion. And I’ve seen pictures of the beignets, housemade ice cream sandwiches and chocolate stuffed wonton, so I definitely will be going back for breakfast….and dessert.

Nica's 320 on Urbanspoon